Leader's Speech: MicheÁl Martin


Below is an edited version of Micheál Martin’s keynote speech at the Fianna Fáil ardfheis:

THANK YOU for your warm welcome and for the spirit that has made this such a successful ardfheis. As we meet tonight, there are people throughout our country who are experiencing very hard times. They are struggling with finding a job, paying their mortgage or losing a loved one to emigration.

The problems facing people are too serious for tired, old political games. I believe that people in public life have a responsibility to chart a way forward and to work to find solutions to the challenges facing Ireland.

When something is right for Ireland, we will support it, when it is wrong we will oppose it.

Let no one be in any doubt about where Fianna Fáil stands – we believe that politics must be about solving problems not exploiting them.

This is the first time I’ve spoken to an ardfheis as leader. Its a great honour and responsibility to hold this office.

I first got involved in Fianna Fáil because we were a party of community, of integrity and of decency. We stood for social solidarity and were on the side of people trying to make ends meet.

When Europe was falling to fascism, our founding leader Éamon de Valera introduced a democratic republican constitution for this State. We created social support schemes to help the weakest in society, gave a priority to pensioners and opened up Irish education.

We secured investment in new industries, built vital infrastructure and supported all regions. That is the great party we all joined and it is the party that Fianna Fáil must become once again. I am determined to get us there. But I need your help.

I am the first person in my family to hold elected office. My parents taught us to respect different political views but, for them, republicanism came first and at its core was a duty to serve the community.

Over the course of 86 years, our party has led progress for Ireland which has been sustained to this day. We have every right to defend our achievements. Equally, we have a clear duty to admit our mistakes. Its not enough to point to the worst world recession in 80 years and the euro zone crisis. Nor to point to the fact that other parties were demanding policies which would have made things worse – thats for them to answer for.

We were in government and we should have acted differently.

We made mistakes.

We got things wrong.

And we are sorry for that.

No equivocation.

No half-apology.

Just the plain, unvarnished truth.

Last year the people did what they were right to do – they held us to account. People were angry and they showed it, delivering a historic defeat for us. We fully acknowledge the scale of the defeat. That is why we must now work for a deep and real renewal of both our party and of politics as a whole.

This is a crisis which is just too serious to think it can be solved without a complete reform of our public life.

For too long, this has been a political system which only discusses fundamental issues when they become a crisis. It concentrates nearly all power in the hands of 15 people sitting at the Cabinet table. Dáil Éireann is becoming more irrelevant and ineffective.

And its not just a national problem. In local government there are many examples. Just recently bin collections for half a million people in Dublin have been privatised with no consultation, inadequate tendering and disastrous results. The people of Dublin have consequently been treated disgracefully.

Since the election things have actually got worse. In the Dáil, the Government’s control has increased and accountability has decreased. Laws and budgets are being rammed through with less scrutiny, committees are less effective and important questions are not being answered.

We believe that the Constitutional Convention to be formed in the next few months must consider changes which touch on every aspect of the political system.

If politics is ever to change, then political parties have to change the way they work. Today Fianna Fáil implemented the most radical series of changes to its organisation since our foundation. Our members have been empowered to take a leading role.

I would like now to talk about our economy. First, I would like to acknowledge the courageous work our late colleague Brian Lenihan did in laying solid foundations for Ireland’s economic recovery. But let no one have any doubt there are still important choices to be made which will define Ireland’s future.

We believe that the Government has made many wrong ones. Some of these choices, such as the raid on personal pensions and the 2 per cent VAT hike, are costing jobs and reducing budget revenue.

It was also their choice to introduce the most unfair budget in recent years. This is not a political claim, its a simple fact. The ESRI and others have confirmed that this Labour/Fine Gael budget fell hardest on ordinary families. There is a credible alternative. There are affordable policies which can make the recovery faster, fairer and more secure.

Weve published a detailed proposal that would generate €5.6 billion for job-creating investments. This would involve a partnership between private pensions, the National Pension Reserve Fund and small investors to provide the capital necessary for vital projects. This would give pension funds a good rate of return – securing both the future of pensions and creating jobs. This is a practical solution which should be done and done now. After three years of recession, tonight at least 100,000 families are facing severe pressures in meeting their mortgage and household debt commitments.

Fianna Fáil has been responsible for every significant expansion in access to education in the history of this State. We cant be complacent. There are still weaknesses in our education system, but equally it has many great strengths. There is no justification for the decision by current Ministers to use one survey to spin the worst possible picture of Irish schools. The choices this Government has made on education are amongst its worst and they must be fought.

In this age of rapid change, government has to help create new industries if it wants to create new jobs.

The right investment by the State can have a huge impact. Put simply, Irelands recovery needs the Government to renew its commitment to research.

Every day I talk to small business owners who say that their single biggest problem is access to credit. The banks have received enormous funding from the State and the ECB specifically to help business survive and grow. But they have been holding the funding back in order to sit on unnecessary reserves. This is undermining business and costing jobs. If the banks wont release the funding then its time to introduce legislation to force them.

The Governments proposal to land millions in extra costs for sick leave on those we need to create more jobs makes no sense. It will increase unemployment and cost the State money.

We will always believe in a united Ireland. We will work day and night to fulfil the republican ideal of uniting Protestant, Catholic and dissenter. In the last 14 years we’ve led the absolute victory of constitutional republicanism on this island.

Ireland was very lucky to have such a wonderful president through these vital years. Tonight let us acknowledge the historic presidency of Mary McAleese and her role of building bridges on this island.

The people of this country have told every party that they want a new politics. They want solutions not an endless election campaign.

Im determined that Fianna Fáil under my leadership will lead the way. This is a Government making many unfair and damaging decisions, and we will never shirk from challenging them.